Transportation Around Walt Disney World in the Post-Pandemic Era: What Might It Look Like?

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New Walt Disney World guests are often astounded at its size, which leads people who give Disney trip planning advice to use phrases like, “It’s about 40 square miles,” and “Disney is twice the size of Manhattan.” Given that Disney World is so spread out, there are a number of transportation options guests use to traverse the property including monorails, buses, boats, and more. Each of these transportation options has pros and cons for users during normal times, but what are the pros and cons of Disney World transportation in a world impacted by COVID-19? What method of getting around will keep you safest? Which will be most comfortable?

Here are things you may want to think about regarding transportation between the parks and resorts when WDW eventually reopens.

[Please note: I have NO inside information about Disney’s reopening plans, timing, or procedures. These are my thoughts only.]

Your Own Private Car

Parking lot tram

If you’re driving to Walt Disney World and have access to your own vehicle, that is likely your safest bet in terms of protection from Coronavirus. You control access to the vehicle. You control the cleanliness. You can wipe down surfaces like seatbelts and steering wheels and remain confident that they will not become contaminated while you are outside of the car.

However, driving your own vehicle between the parks and resorts is not without complications. These include:

  • Parking fees. Guests staying at the Disney resort hotels are subject to sometimes hefty fees to park private cars on site. Your safety and comfort may be worth it, but the parking rate must be factored into your budget.
  • Parking trams. The Disney theme park parking lots are vast. Guests with mobility issues or small children in tow often take a parking lot tram to get from even the nearby spaces to the park itself. And able guests often take the tram from mid-distance spaces and farther. The trams themselves are open air, which is a positive, but guests are often packed shoulder to shoulder once on board. And of course you’re touching the tram door handle to get into the vehicle.
  • Secondary transportation to the Magic Kingdom. Guests driving their own cars to the Magic Kingdom must take the additional step of riding the monorail or ferry boat to get from the lot to the Magic Kingdom. See below for thoughts on those modes of transport.
  • The heat. Parking a car in Disney lot during the summer is akin to creating an oven. I’ve made the mistake of leaving a bag of gummy bears in a car parked in a Disney lot in August only to return an hour later to find it had become a bag of sugar soup. If you’re going to use your own car to get around WDW, you probably want to invest in a sun shield and be prepared for some substantial sweat until your AC kicks in.
  • The walk from your hotel room to your car. If you’re staying at a value or moderate resort, this is not a huge issue. If you’re staying at some of the deluxe hotels, notably the Grand Floridian, the guest parking lot could be nearly half a mile from your room. If you’re an able adult, this might not be a factor, but guests with medical issues or small children might find this cumbersome. The workaround here is valet parking, but that’s obviously an additional expense. And it involves having a cast member touching your keys and in your vehicle, taking away the sanctity of the germ-free private bubble.

Rental Car

If you’re flying to Walt Disney World, you obviously won’t have access to your own car, but can rent a car for your sole use during your vacation. The issues regarding rental cars are identical to those of personal cars, except for the initial pick-up step. The more of your rental transaction you can complete online in advance, the fewer people you’ll have to interact with at the airport or other pick-up spot.

I’ve gotten numerous emails from car rental companies I’ve used over the years which describe their new and improved cleaning procedures between rentals. They all have statements on their websites about how they’re endeavoring to keep you safe. For example, the Hertz site says:

“Around the world, we have enhanced our cleaning methods at our locations and our shuttle buses including using approved disinfectant to regularly wipe down high-touch areas such as door handles, counters, kiosks and other hard surfaces. We’ve added more alcohol-based hand sanitizers and are reminding employees to take important hygiene steps, including frequent handwashing and staying home if ill. For our vehicles, we are reinforcing our rigorous cleaning process which includes priority areas such as door handles, steering wheel, dashboard, console, seats, etc.”

If you’re planning to rent a car, plan to become familiar with their new procedures about pick-up and return. You may also want to come prepared with your own stash of disinfectant wipes or other supplies to re-clean your car upon acquisition.

Ride Share (Taxi, Uber, Lyft, Minnie Van, etc.)

In pre-Coronavirus days, I had come to be frequent Lyft user at Walt Disney World. The price was typically reasonable for a speedy trip from my resort to a theme park. For example, during a long February 2020 trip, I used early morning Lyfts three days in a row to get from my room at the Wilderness Lodge to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the wee hours in attempts to get in a Rise of the Resistance boarding group. Each trip cost in the neighborhood of $15, including tip.

Using a rideshare takes away some of the stresses of having your own vehicle on WDW property. You’re not paying a daily parking fee (though you are obviously paying the ride share fee). You’ll be entering a vehicle where the air conditioning has been running, so you’re not risking heat stroke just getting into the car. At all destinations other than the Magic Kingdom, you’ll have as close to door to door service as possible; my Lyft to DHS dropped me steps from the entry gate rather than in the middle of a distant parking lot, so you’re able to skip both the long walk and the parking lot tram.

On the downside, you’ll be spending at least 10 minutes in a small enclosed space with a stranger, basically the perfect storm for virus transmission. Additionally, you’re risking exposure to that car’s previous guests, all of whom will have touched things like door handles and seatbelt latches.

To obviate some of the rideshare risk, you can take standard precautions like only getting into a car with a driver who is wearing a mask and wearing a mask yourself. Carry a packet of disinfectant wipes to clean high-touch surfaces within the car and/or slather on the hand sanitizer as you would when touching anything in a public space.

Other safety tips include using electronic means of payment (skip cash transactions in taxis) and using the largest vehicle you can afford, giving you precious extra inches of distance away from the driver.

Monorail

The monorail is Disney’s signature transportation method, with routes going from the Transportation and Ticket Center (effectively the Magic Kingdom parking lot) and from three resorts to the Magic Kingdom theme park, as well as from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot. The monorail cars are enclosed spaces with bench seats and room for standing guests. Guests typically sit/stand shoulder to shoulder, if not closer. The windows do not open.

On the plus side, the monorail doors open automatically, so you’re not required to touch anything to enter the vehicle. On the minus side, if you’re standing, you will need to hold onto a pole during your journey – a pole that potentially hundreds of people will have touched before you.

To mitigate some of the risk with monorail transportation, Disney could:

  • Limit the number of guests allowed into each car so as to minimize the need to hold onto a pole during travel.
  • Provide hand sanitizer dispensers either within each monorail car, at each monorail station, or both.
  • Periodically suspend operation during the day to allow for deep cleaning.

To mitigate some of the risk with the monorail, you should:

  • Wear a mask at all times.
  • Remove yourself from any car where other riders are not masked.
  • Make ample use of hand sanitizer before and after riding.

Buses

Buses transport guests from several of the resorts to all the Disney theme parks. Many of the monorail issues apply to buses. Guest are often packed in tightly, sitting shoulder to shoulder with many standing people hovering over the sitters. On some buses, windows could theoretically open, but this won’t happen during the summer when air conditioning is an imperative.

And as with the monorail, to mitigate some of the risk with bus transportation, Disney could:

  • Limit the number of guests allowed into each vehicle so as to minimize the need to hold onto a pole during travel.
  • Provide hand sanitizer dispensers either within each bus, at each bus stop, or both.
  • Periodically suspend operation during the day to allow for deep cleaning.

In my opinion, it should be much easier to implement distancing and cleaning procedures with buses than with the monorail. The sheer number of available buses would allow Disney to pull a percentage of the fleet offline every few hours for a thorough wipedown.

To mitigate some of the risk with the monorail, you should:

  • Wear a mask at all times.
  • Remove yourself from any car where other riders are not masked.
  • Make ample use of hand sanitizer before and after riding.

Boats

Boats take guests from some hotels to Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom, as well as from the Transportation & Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom. Like the monorail and buses, guests are sometimes packed onto boats, though in my personal observation, this happens less frequently than with other forms of transportation.

The advantage of traveling by boat is that there is better airflow than on the enclosed land transportation. Many of the Disney boats have open-air sides. The Friendship Boats (those in the Epcot area) are not fully open-air, but they do have fully openable windows and some enclosed seating areas.

To keep yourself safe, wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, and sit in open seating or near a window whenever possible.

Prior to COVID-19, if I were going from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom, nine times out of ten I’d take the monorail. Going forward, ten times out of ten I’ll opt for the ferry boat.

Skyliner

The Skyliner, Disney’s newest form of intra-World transportation, offers many positives. The relatively small cabins make it easy for Disney to load individual parties into each gondola, meaning that you’re not packed up against unknown guests. And there are vents for air flow; this previously much maligned feature is now a big benefit in my book. It would also be relatively easy for Disney to periodically pull a percentage of the fleet offline for deep cleaning.

Adding sanitizer dispensers to the cabins or Skyliner stations would be an easy measure to make this an even safer form of transport.

What will your preferred method be of getting around WDW when it reopens? What new procedures do you think will be in place? Let us know in the comments.

Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com, a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater. Erin can be reached on Twitter @MsErinFoster.

5 thoughts on “Transportation Around Walt Disney World in the Post-Pandemic Era: What Might It Look Like?

  • May 14, 2020 at 10:22 am
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    I have also been wondering about the Magical Express. Will they have less people on the buses and therefore it will take a lot longer to get from MCO to the resort? Will they start to charge for it? Maybe they’ll add buses to not add time to people’s trip from MCO to WDW. Can’t wait for information on all these transportation questions and the many others we all have.

    Reply
  • May 14, 2020 at 1:56 pm
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    Like Ann, I’m concerned about the Magical Express as well as the onsite buses. Here in New York, drivers are sectioned off for their own safety and people are told to limit their ridership only if they had an urgent need. I don’t know how Disney will be able to handle transportation needs at busy hours unless it just runs all buses to a specific park during specific hours. Magical Express schedules and locations might also have to be rejiggered. Looking forward to what solution is developed.

    Reply
  • May 14, 2020 at 2:58 pm
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    Walking from Contemporary Resort to MK, or Beach Club/Boardwalk to EP, sounds like best option to me.

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  • May 15, 2020 at 9:46 am
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    Yeah, we are planning to use the Magical Express for the first time in November of this year (previously, we’ve always rented a car; and we always sanitized the rentals anyway before leaving the airport). Now, not so sure. We’ll need to re-evaluate as it gets later into the year. Not concerned about the short bus/boat rides from the hotel to the parks

    Reply
  • May 15, 2020 at 9:51 am
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    Both Lyft and Uber are starting to require that both the driver and passenger must wear a face mask. Also, passengers must sit in the back seat.

    Reply

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